There are more ways to communicate with customers than ever. Email, social media and mobile phones have transformed the ways in which you interact with customers. And yet it's poor communication that makes many business relationships break down.
As a small business, it's up to you to initiate good communication. You can't rely on your customers to tell you what they think. Not everyone takes the trouble to complain, so many dissatisfied customers simply go elsewhere.
Getting communication right involves thinking about how you interact with customers at every contact point. To communicate well you need to understand your customers and respond to their needs.
The secret of good communication is to tailor your approach to the individual. One useful theory you can use is that your customer will have one of four temperament styles - aggressive, passive, analytical and expressive. Each of these personality types approaches buying decisions in their own way. Look out for them and respond accordingly.
As each of these customers behaves in different ways, you should provide customers with multiple ways of registering a complaint - for example, via your social media channels, via a customer service helpline or using a form on your website.
Most importantly of all, remember to listen. If you are a big talker, you may have to curb your natural tendency to interrupt or dominate the conversation. To develop a dialogue with your customer, ask open-ended questions and listen to the answers. It's worth using the same words and phrases your customer has used to show you are listening and to build rapport.
How to improve your communication
Good communication is not just about responding when your customer walks in. You can actively plan a communication strategy that will ensure you build good customer relationships that reward you with more business.
Make regular contact using a communication method most suited to each customer, whether by phone, email, social networks or text. It's worth asking customers how they like to be contacted. Most people will have a particular preference - and may find other communication methods positively annoying. Keep the lines of communication open so you can respond to your customers' changing requirements. As you build the relationship, you will strengthen the ties that bind and develop a loyal customer (and fan) base.
You also need to put in place a complaints procedure. Complaints handling is one of the main issues by which customers judge a business. More than 50% of people say they complain, and those complaints are often to organisations they actually like. A well-handled complaint improves their perception of your business. Saying sorry is always appreciated by the customer. Remember, the crime is not making the mistake, it's making it twice.